Effect of 3rd Party Reviews on Google Local Rankings


David Fesler

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I'm speaking of Smile Reminder and Demand Force in particular. I know that they're still recognized with a link at the bottom of a G+ Local page, but how much of an impact do they have on actual positioning?

In the most recent Local Search Ranking Factors it states that velocity and number of 3rd party reviews are important, however, has anyone seen it have a noticeable impact with these two, or any other 3rd party review aggregators that are industry specific?
 
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Linda Buquet

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Hi David,

Thanks for posting a great question!

In my experience more reviews and more citations for that matter only move the ranking needle on the old "pack style" algo, which as you know does not show up much any more and typically does on the lower competition KWs.

Core and competitive and popular KWs normally pull blended. And in my opinion blended ranking order is still primarily dependent on ORGANIC ranking factors. So # of reviews and citations does not have much if any impact.

That’s why you can see an A listing that's unclaimed with no reviews outrank others that have lots of reviews. That's my viewpoint anyway.

However also important to realize the algo may have changed somewhat since the last LSRF was published. I believe there are over 200 ranking factors now (in fact I think it's more like 300) and blended does include somewhat of a blend of factors from both sides. I used to say blended was 90-95 organic, but now I think it's a little more blended up and mixed than that - maybe 85% organic?

There seem to be new factors that are shaking things up a bit and making it not quite as easy to analyze. Have not had time to try to reverse engineer the algo for awhile so have not figured the new changes out yet.

Would love to hear opinions from the rest of the community on this.
 

mborgelt

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Linda,

I would have to agree with you that before the algo's where blended reviews had a lot more factor on rankings, now much less. I think it is a great point that you mentioned the listings that show up as "A" but are not even claimed show the important of organic rankings factors in the algo.

If you have detailed out those 300+ ranking factors I would love to see them. :)
 

Phil Rozek

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@David

I?ve also found third-party reviews to be a major factor in my clients? Google+Local rankings. Even now it?s all a black box, so it?s hard to say exactly how much they count for, but the clients of mine who?ve done the best tend to be the ones who can get reviews not only on Google+Local but on third-party sites. Diversity of sites matters, too: even if you?re getting DemandForce reviews, definitely also do what you can to scare up reviews on CitySearch, InsiderPages, and maybe even Yelp.

Hate to do this, but I?ll have to differ from Linda on whether the algorithm has changed since last June. As much as has happened since last May when we participated in the LSRF survey, I just haven?t noticed anything different ingredients in the burrito. The overall arc over the last couple of years has seemed to be that on-page factors matter increasingly more, and I?m sure we?ll see some changes as the year rolls on. But for now I?d say last year?s LSRF still paints a very good picture.
 

Linda Buquet

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Hate to do this, but I?ll have to differ from Linda on whether the algorithm has changed since last June. As much as has happened since last May when we participated in the LSRF survey, I just haven?t noticed anything different ingredients in the burrito.
Well I have to agree with that too Phil and maybe what I said was not real clear.

I guess what I should have said is I'm seeing lots of rankings shifting and my 'gut' tells me some things may be shifting, plus I've had other consultants tell me that they don't think organic is playing as big a part as it did for awhile. PLUS on some rankings I've tried to reverse engineer - the ranking order made NO logical sense at all.

So in a way I agree nothing definite has really changed. But it just seems like things are shifting. I don't pretend to have a very clear picture yet. It's just gut feeling and speculation at this point.
 

mborgelt

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I think getting reviews from other 3rd party provides is important especially if you have a lot of review at Google Places (just look natural to have them at a number of different places). Not sure if you know but from about July to the end of Dec Google was on a rampage to remove fake reviews from listings and it was pretty difficult to get good reviews from happy customers posted. Now I think Google has reduced those strict requirements and its easier to get reviews posted again.
 

Colan Nielsen

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I usually make a point to help our clients direct their clients to 3rd party review sites that happen to be linked to G+ Local.

So if our client has an Insider Pages, City Search, and a Kudzu listing, and only the City Search listing is linked to the G+ Local page, I will give that one priority over the others.

Seems like a logical thing to do.
 

Linda Buquet

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If you have detailed out those 300+ ranking factors I would love to see them. :)
I've seen several pros on the organic side and I'm pretty sure I've even seen Google come right out and say there are over 200 ORGANIC factors, including all the obvious things we know for sure, plus less obvious things like site speed, click through rate, stick rate and a bunch of other things.

Mat Cutts said there were 200 factors at Pucon in 2009 and Eric Schmidt referenced the same # in 2010. But now I think there are a lot more with all the new social signals in the mix.

Matt Cutts Nov 2010 quote:
Google has 200 ranking factors but those ranking factors may have 50 or more variations within a single factor.

Here are some older references:

Schmidt: Listing Google’s 200 Ranking Factors Would Reveal Business Secrets

Dear Bing, We Have 10,000 Ranking Signals To Your 1,000. Love, Google

Chapter 1: Types Of Search Engine Ranking Factors

The List: Google’s 200 Search Engine Ranking Factors!

Google Algorithm - What are the 200 Variables? Google SEO News and Discussion forum at WebmasterWorld

Then I believe there have been around 70 factors discussed for the local algo. Most of which are covered in the LSRF.
 

Phil Rozek

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@Linda

I see what you mean. Thanks! Still not sure that social signals are much of a factor (at least in Google+Local), though I know they'll become increasingly important - fast and probably soon.
 

Linda Buquet

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I'm sick and still loopy from sedation (makes you lose your mind for a day or two) so spacey as all get out. Don't think I was very clear on any of that. :rolleyes:
 

David Deering

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I guess it's difficult to say with any certainty how much third-party reviews help with Local rankings. But personally, I believe that they do help. Then there's the "does correlation equal causation?" argument. Do reviews help a Local listing rank higher, or do reviews help in other ways that end up helping a business rank higher in Local? For example, if you have 5 competing businesses in the same city fighting for the same keywords and market, but only 1 or 2 have third-party reviews, most people are going to click on their listing as opposed to the ones that do not have reviews. Reviews in a way provide people with some assurances about a business. So when the websites or listings of businesses that have reviews are visited much more than the ones that do not, Google obviously takes notice. Then there's the trust element that factors into rankings, too.

So if nothing else, third-party reviews will cause a business' listing to get noticed more and clicked more. So my opinion is that when it comes to reviews, get them as much as you can and of course vary the sites (Google, Yelp, CitySearch, etc). It will help and it definitely can't hurt.
 

Colan Nielsen

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Great points David. 3rd party reviews can have direct, as well as indirect impacts on G+ Local ranking.

Well said :)
 

Keenan Glass

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David - I agree that the presence of 3rd party reviews could lead to higher click thru rates, but since their presence generally cannot be seen unless you hover over the listing to produce the local knowledge graph or click to their listing, I think most people never see them.

Overall, I don't think reviews affect ranking very much.

But the number of Google Reviews definitely plays a big role in which listing gets clicked or called.
 

Nick.SEOSpark

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Very good discussion that has opened up here.

I also think that a variety of 3rd party reviews is useful, however not necessarily the main focus of the campaign - I also chase Google reviews more as well. In a competitive market, I think that it would rely on "additional reviews" so it's future-proof to have them as part of the campaign.

In terms of overall ranking factors, I've said before that I take quite a "holistic" view of it all, and that is why I try to keep up with the overall "organic" landscape as I think it's vital. Like Linda mentioned, you have additional factors like Page Speed that can make a difference - At the very least, you need to make sure that the website isn't slow. If they are using a Wordpress website for example, there is a fairly good chance that it will be slow "out of the box" and so this problem needs sorting.
 

JoshuaMackens

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On reviews, they matter. In my opinion, I wouldn't worry too much about which sites to get them from. Getting a single review is hard enough and if you do get to choose, I would choose Google.

As for organic factors playing a heavy role in blended ranking, I can't say I believe that. I've tested out various organic ranking methods that do not translate to high rankings in the blended pack. In fact, there was zero movement up or down. G+L listings are very static. They don't seem to change all that often, not even a little shake up. Organic rankings change constantly, even on the first page. Organic is obviously a factor but not as much as I think many people believe.

This is based on my own personal research meaning nothing published or necessarily substantial to anyone else besides myself :)
 

Russ

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Whether or not there is any positive ranking factor for 3rd party reviews I think they are just as or more important in terms of target audience versus Google serps.

When some one is looking for a business on sites like Yelp, to me they are more often a step further in the buying process then they are when on Google so the traffic is even more targeted.

Also on sites like Yelp, etc. Males are greatly under represented while females are greatly over represented that should say enough about the importance of 3rd party reviews if you ask me. = )

Who cares if they help with Local rankings, the people on those sites have their credit cards in hand.
 

JacobPuhl

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I find 3rd party reviews to be effective and an indicator or authority for a business's local ranking. Demandforce seems to be a large factor. Have had many clients that have very strong 'organic seo' signals and rank above the blended pack, but have very few "local' factors and are nowhere to be found in the maps whether it be for short or longtail kws. They did not show up in the local maps until the business had an a stronger "local" profile (citations + google reviews and 3rd party reviews).

In these situations I think if you think about google's algo logically as in "what would be indicators of a good, strong authoritative business that would equal a good result if the user click on it, called it, and actually visited it?"

In that line of thinking, the "best" real world dentists probably have more reviews on demandforce ... and yelp. I believe it makes tons of sense for Google to weigh yelp reviews very heavily since they are manually and human reviewed. That, to me, would be a great indicator as to the authority of the business and therefore a factor in where that business shows up in the SERPS. Same with Demandforce and a few others.

Other 3rd parties would make sense to the degree of difficulty in spamming the site. So with citysearch, insiderpages etc it is much easier to submit fake reviews so it would make sense those are counted less in the algo... Speculation, but would make a whole lotta sense.
 

JoshuaMackens

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I agree with the standing of Yelp reviews being very beneficial. They help your local ranking (just like other 3rd party reviews) and people actually do use Yelp to make purchasing decisions. However, if I had to choose between a third party review and a Google review, I would still take a Google review.

For conversion (maybe not ranking so much) Google reviews are still king in my opinion.

I would like to point out that Demandforce reviews don't typically have a filter from what I understand of their product. They are a local search engine with their priority being on the local business rather than the consumer. Where Yelp's priority is the consumer and they tell local businesses not to solicit reviews so that the local listings can stay more natural and organic, Demandforce (unless they've just recently changed their policy) openly encourages their local businesses that advertise with them to solicit reviews through Demandforce. Also, DF is a paid for inclusion site, again, unless their policy has changed lately.

Why is this important? Because Google knows this and if I were Google, I wouldn't count these reviews as much or maybe even at all considering they are solicited and are not necessarily a truly accurate barometer of the quality of a local business.

One thing to note however is that Google doesn't always do what is logical. As of this posting, I don't believe they take review quality into consideration currently. I could be wrong and this may have changed awhile ago but I still see businesses with terrible reviews outranking other businesses with perfect scores. What does this tell us? That Google doesn't always do what you think they would so, DF reviews could actually count for a whole lot.

But it is valuable to us as local consultants to still think in the terms of "What would I do if I were Google." Google is a logical machine trying to duplicate and emulate the human brain and human decision making. You're already ahead of the game by the virtue of being a homosapien. Keep thinking in those terms and you will more often than not do well with Google.

P.S. This post was in no way designed to deter you from using DF. I've never used them and I can't speak to the quality of their product but I was just trying to help you walk down the path of exactly how Google might view their reviews. I will say this though, DF makes it very easy (allegedly) to leave reviews in their system for clients and considering Google does still count them as a 3rd party review, the mass and velocity of reviews you can achieve through their system could completely outweigh the reviews you might get from a Yelp or other local search directory. If you get 50 DF reviews to every 1 Yelp review, which do you think is helping more? My money is on DF.
 

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